Category Archives: mae la

Videos of the fire

Here are videos of the fire. Still no news of the people…


Karen News reports that a fire has devastated the KKBBSC buildings

Photo of the fire from the Karen News website

A fire has destroyed a bible school and other buildings in Mae La Refugee Camp, 57km north of the Thai town of Mae Sot at 12.30pm today. Camp residents managed to put out the fire after about an hour.

A camp resident whom witnessed the fire explained to Karen News that the fire destroyed several buildings in the Kawthoolei Karen Baptist Bible School and College (KKBBSC) compound located in Zone C.1A of Mae La refugee camp.

“The fire started in the food storage building. Now many buildings including the school, food storage, library, teachers’ houses and other buildings were destroyed by the fire.”

Teaching Initiative for Refugees and Migrants around Mae Sot

The Burma Education Program are looking for teachers.

In 2011-2012 BEP will provide a Training Award for migrant teachers to include for the first time an accredited certificate. In the refugee community BEP will continue with materials development to provide EL curriculum materials for all primary schools in the refugee camps along the border. In support of this programme, BEP will provide a Mobile Unit offering professional training to the refugee teachers.

They need people with British or Irish citizenship plus a degree and ELT certificate. If this is you or someone you know do look at the job description.


There is an excellent post “Why are there Burmese refugees? Part II: Letter from a student” that describes life in Burma under the military and explains why som eone might prefer to live the restricted life of a refugee camp.

Fauna at Mae La: Barbara’s first solo post

Not "our" frog, who was bigger and fatter, but a reasonable substitute, from Spiros2004

Things were quite different at the camp, from our first trip, regarding animal life. Tim saw a small snake in the loos one night, and I saw a dead mouse on two evenings in the inside toilet.   Not very appealing but at least it was dead. Of more concern was the extensive noise of rats in the space between the roof and the tarpaulin “ceiling”. Much more than 2008, and increasing during the 3 weeks we were there. Our Danish colleagues saw a very large rat in their room so we did quite well, but hard to sleep with rustling and other noises from them and the geckos . Quite a few geckos too. One kind frequent in Mae Sot and Klee Thoo Clo which goes “gee-ko” was not so apparent but lots of other ones were seen reguIarly.

It doesn’t do any good to get too upset by these things, but I was glad not to meet any frogs until the very last night, and although unlikely to be the same one as 2 years ago, was in nearly the same place and enormous! On the bright side, only one cockroach was seen. Lots more mosquitoes though and I got badly bitten as usual so the routine of late afternoon wash, change into long wrap and apply insect repellent helped.

One morning at prayers we were told the mosquito sprayers were coming that day. For some reason they did not, maybe they’ve been after we left, I hope so as there are already cases of malaria and dengue in the camp. There were fewer cats than last time which may explain the rats, but I am very grateful our overall experience of the wildlife was not too unpleasant.

An economy with no “work”

The wide central street of the market (photo by jackol)

According to the “rules” in Thailand a camp for displaced people is temporary, and among other consequences there is no regular employment. Yet there is in this camp a thriving and large market.

The market itself is one way in which some families make money, buying in Mae Sot and selling at a markup in Mae La Camp. (Many of these traders are “Indian”, among them Muslim Karen of Indian genetic heritage whose families have traded among the Karen in Burma for generations, and who fled the Thatmadaw (army of the Myanmar government) across the border with other Karen.

Some women earn money by weaving traditional cloth, to be sold by sponsoring organisations (Karen Women’s Organisation, Kawthoulei Karen Baptist Women’s Organisation) who provided loans to enable them to get yarn and looms (microfinance) with the profit shared by the organisation and the woman.

Some men risk getting caught by the Thai authorities and leave the camp spreading deep into the surrounding jungle to collect the leaves that are used for thatching buildings. They earn about 50 bhat (NZ$2) per day of hard work. Others work inside the camp for NGOs earning (self)respect and an allowance of 400 baht per month (nursery teachers) up to 1500 baht (medics).

In this context the response of people here to Cyclone Nargis is impressive, within days more than 100,000 bhat was collected and aid sent direct to those worst affected inside Burma. This immediate collection was only the start.

No sooner given than the money was used to buy vital supplies and sent via pastors, Buddhist monks and others to one of the worst hit areas.

One more way in which, though poor in money, the Karen people are rich! (See 1 Cor 6:1-10 especially v.10)

Photo above by jackol

Lives in a refugee camp

Thra William's smart house and colourful garden

Living in a refugee camp involves continual attempts to adapt restrictive circumstances so that life can become more “normal”. For different people, the pressure points are different, therefore as anywhere people have different priorities.

William in his garden

For Thra (Teacher) William, gardens are important. He also wants a nice house and is currently converting his basement to make new rooms. He  always opens his home to others – there are currently several young men staying long term while they study, and Shirley lives there too when she is teaching at KKBBSC).

College chapel, in winter even the preacher finds it cold in the morning

His small yard has become a colourful and attractive oasis amid the brown packed earth that is more usual, he even has a lawn, all grown from cuttings and a few transplanted starters.

Teachers are respected, so sit at the front

For many refugees the camp provides the sense of being “shut up like a bird in a cage”. Here access to cell phones, and cheap deals that let you call without extra charge in the daytime, mean that they can speak to friends and family even those far away. Phones are a special joy, since they are kept out of the reach of ordinary people in Burma, where the military government prices a SIM card at US$1000.

Students and Shirley use laptops and Internet for work and to contact friends and family

With the dropping price of laptops, and an increase in availability of second hand ones, more people than two years ago can access the world by this route.

Singing in chapel

The market is also a large scale adaptation, people spot a need: flip flops, cloth, rechargable torches, tea leaves… and arrange (or themselves risk a trip to town) to get a supply and sell them at a small markup. Where the money comes from is as they say another story (or rather many many varieties of story).

The Bible School is another huge and complex set of adaptations. Teachers and students get purpose in a place where paying work is forbidden. Familiar values from the “old days”, and the home land, are preserved and celebrated. Community is built. Music is performed, which requires extensive practice, thus in yet another way filling time that would in the outside world be demanded by paid work.